BARCELONA, Spain -- The longest, most punishing week of Ron Karnaugh's young life comes to an end on the world's stage today when he swims in the Olympic 200-meter individual medley. The race comes six days after Karnaugh's 60-year-old father, Peter, died of a heart attack during the opening ceremonies.
Karnaugh, 26, from Maplewood, N.J., swims in a morning qualifying heat. If he qualifies with one of the eight fastest times, he will swim tonight in the final, on the last night of the Olympic swimming competition.
Under ordinary circumstances, Karnaugh would be considered a likely medalist in the event. His time of 2 minutes, 1.56 seconds is ranked second in the world behind defending Olympic champion and world-record holder Tamas Darnyi of Hungary. Karnaugh won the U.S. trials last March.
Karnaugh, however, has been under extraordinary stress this week. He arrived with the U.S. team at the Olympic Village 10 days ago and was one of the few U.S. swimmers to march in the opening ceremonies Sunday night. Less than an hour after Karnaugh spotted his father, mother and sister in the stadium, his father collapsed. He died shortly thereafter at a first-aid clinic.
Two other factors: Most of the U.S. rankings coming into the Olympics have proved slightly artificial, because the U.S. trials were exceptionally competitive and fast. Also, there will be intense scrutiny on Karnaugh and heavy media coverage.
Karnaugh's mother and sister have tried to shield him from the details of returning the family -- and his father's body -- to the United States. "His mother has really tried to prevent Ron from dealing with any of this and just to concentrate on swimming his race," said an individual who has been working with the Karnaugh family.
Karnaugh told teammates as recently as Tuesday that he didn't know how he could possibly concentrate on his swim. That attitude, teammates said, has changed in the past two days and Karnaugh now expects to swim well.